A Week of Listening: Advice from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

So, what’s been happening in the week and a half since my last post?

Ferguson protest in Washington, DC on 11/25/14
#Ferguson protest in Washington, DC on November 25th – Creative Commons (Neil Cooler)

Watching tweet after tweet after the Ferguson grand jury decision last Monday night, I felt again what I’ve come to recognize as the greatest temptation facing bloggers: “…thinking that there are thoughts that will never be thought unless you think them, and words that will never be said unless you say them.”

Fortunately, I remembered the advice I gave myself in taking a month-long break from blogging this past summer:

Twice in recent months, I’ve made much of the virtue of listening. Not only have I called my discipline a “ministry of listening,” but I’ve lamented that the availability of tools like WordPress make too many Christians think that they’ve been called to speak prophetically, when the vast majority of us have actually been called to listen for such voices.

And perhaps it’s especially true that those of us accustomed to having a voice need to silence it in order to tune our ears to those who too often go unheard — or half-heard. So I tried to apply that principle last week, saying nothing about #Ferguson other than to use this blog’s Facebook page to encourage followers to join me in listening to some other voices:

Then a thousand words into the Ferguson-post-to-end-all-Ferguson-posts that would mark my triumphant return to blogging, last night I hit delete and decided that I’d instead make this a week of listening here at The Pietist Schoolman.

Tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday I’m going to recommend three voices that have caught my ear in recent days, adding precious little commentary of my own and asking what you heard from those who spoke.

If you want to take part in this week of listening, start by reflecting on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s advice about the importance of this practice to any Christian community (perhaps even a virtual one):

"ask yourself: why am I not LISTENING?" (photo from #Ferguson protest in St. Louis)
Photo from November 26th protest in downtown St. Louis, MO – Creative Commons (velo_city)

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers [and bloggers?], so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too…. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies. (Life Together, pp. 97-98)

As we listen, let us beware the “kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.” Instead, let us seek to “listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God” (p. 99).

And finally, remember that the admonition of the apostle James, who wanted his readers not only to “be quick to listen,” but to “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (Jas 1:19, 22).

Read the first post in this series>>


2 thoughts on “A Week of Listening: Advice from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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